Being a Biracial Ally
The other day Carter made me watch this show called Hate Thy Neighbor on Viceland. Basically the premise of the show is there's this mixed comedian who interviews and shadows hate groups. Man, if you ever just want to be mad, watch that show.
One of the most impactful moments from Hate Thy Neighbor that really stuck with me came from this super redneck white supremacist KKK dude who argued that black people, naturally, were just slightly more evolved monkeys. They're animals. Aggressive. Stupid. Incapable of evolving to the status of the white man.
I wrestled with this man's awful statement a lot, not because he was right, but because I don't think I'd be the best person to prove him wrong.
Bear with me here, y'all.
I'm mixed. So is Jamali, the host of Hate Thy Neighbor. After hearing what was probably one of the most racist, ignorant statements I've ever heard, I wanted to ride a Megabus into whatever backwood middle state the guy lived in and give him a good ol' liberal education. Show off my college education on black history and racism. Tell him how wrong he is, how there's nothing wrong with interracial relationships, how race is a social construct— all of that. But at the end of the day, I could yell at this dude till I turn red, and it would not make a difference.
Cause I'm mixed.
I am a black woman. I'm half white. And I could list off all of my achievements, academic or otherwise, and it wouldn't matter because I'm mixed. This crazy redneck dude would chalk it all up to the fact that I'm half white, and that my whiteness is what makes me great. That's what he said to Jamali, the show's mixed host. "You're one of the good ones, that's the white talking."
It's total B.S., but it'd be his excuse. And I don't really know how I'd respond to that. This brings me to my larger point.
Being biracial, it's easy to feel like you don't fit in anywhere. I've been criticized in many black spheres because, according to them, I'm "not really black." I don't have two black parents, so I'm less black and not as authentic. (I've actually been told these things)
Historically, biracial people (who are white and black) have been favored over fully black people because of their whiteness. A mixed person's whiteness almost determines how far they go in society, with "passing" a.k.a being light skinned enough to pass for white, being the most privileged kind of mixed person. In antebellum slavery this was commonplace as slave masters raped black enslaved women, giving their children special privileges. Naturally this created feelings of animosity between mixed people (mulattos, quadroons, etc.) and the black community.
So on one hand you have a mixed person not feeling completely black because of this presence of whiteness in their person, and on the other...
Plessy v Ferguson
Homer Plessy was an "octoroon," or, a man who was 1/8th white. In a staged activist event, Plessy rode a train in Louisiana, purchasing a ticket for the white train car. He was able to get on the train because he passed as a white man. But everything went awry (or according to plan?) when the conductor asked if he was colored, and he told them he was. They told him to ride the Jim Crow train cart, and he refused because he bought a first class ticket. He was then thrown off the train.
What ensued was one of the most influential court cases in American history, forever marking the beginning of the "separate but equal law," which endured until Brown v Board and eventually the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
One can argue that mixed people don't completely fit into black culture, but historically, biracial people with even a drop of black in them are still considered black enough to be separate from white culture.
The other day I was waiting for the elevator at my job when this lady came and stood in front of me. She was waiting for the elevator too. She turned around and glanced at me, and then she did a double take. She looked really shocked at my appearance, and she asked, abruptly, "Where are you from?"
First of all, who are you?
I doubted she wanted to hear, "PG County, Maryland."
So, I gave a small smile and said, "I'm Jamaican."
She looked more frustrated than before and stated loudly, "But you're white!"
Looking down at myself and making sure I hadn't switched skin colors in the last five seconds, I answered, "No..."
She said, "You're mixed!"
I said, "Yes."
She asserted, "You're mixed with white."
This exchange went on in the elevator and while I tried to speedwalk away from the elevator once it got to my floor.
There's a lot I took away from that exchange, the first being:
After talking through the experience with Maggie, I really related that weird experience with this feeling of being constantly reminded that I'm not fully black or white. This isn't a "woe is me I wish I was black or white!!!" It's a learning experience that I'm currently trying to navigate and figure out. But with this experience, Hate Thy Neighbor and a plethora of other things going on right now, here's what I've learned about allyship:
In certain spaces I am not the best voice for the black community.
Depending on the context, my whiteness can either hinder my message or help my message. But how do you know when to speak up and when to let others' voices shine?
Taking a lesson from Homer Plessy, a mixed activist for the black community, I have access to certain white spaces that fully black people do not. The traincar incident only worked because Homer Plessy was mixed. With these "white spaces," I mean family and friends that might have implicit biases at work. Being as close to them as I am, I have the opportunity to confront these thought processes and correct them. I can explain police brutality to my white readers with statistics and facts, in a space where they might let their guards down because they know who I am and how my races work.
On the other hand, I already know I'm not the best voice to use in a discussion on hair diversity in the natural hair community. I have a blog post on it just explaining the opinions at play within that community, but I'm not making it about me, I'm trying to reflect the attention onto women with type 4 hair.
As a general rule of thumb, ask yourself before speaking, "Am I gaining any attention from this discourse? Or is it being directed to where it should be?"
My thoughts on this topic are EVERYWHERE. So let me know yours.